My learning goal each year is to read at least 40 business-related books so I can share useful ideas with my coaching clients to help them succeed. Less than a year ago I read The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need by Anthony Iannarino, which I recommended to my newsletter subscribers. Recently I was at my local library (where I get all of my books) and I saw that he had gone ahead written another sales book, The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the Ten Commitments That Drive Sales.
Hey, wait a second man – I thought I’d already read the only sales guide I’ll ever need!!! Did Anthony realize that he might be perceived as doing what all unscrupulous sales people have done for centuries to unsuspecting buyers – they LIE? But since I thought his previous book was good, I took a chance and checked this one out.
I’m glad I did. In The Lost Art of Closing Iannarino challenges the antiquated notion that we need to “ABC” – Always Be Closing. He says that we always need to be gaining commitments from our prospects in a logical sequence to move the sales process forward. So let me give you my take on these:
The Commitment of Time The first commitment is to get a prospect to agree to see you. We know how pressed for time everyone is these days -- our “smart devices,” designed to be time-savers, actually take up more of most people’s time. (I get laughed at for having a flip phone but my face is never staring down at the phone when walking down the street.) Ideally you have gotten a referral to a prospect from a credible client or center of influence to open the door and set an initial meeting. Iannarino suggests you ask for only 20 minutes to begin a relationship. My experience shows that if the prospect feels engaged, that 20 minutes can expand to 30, 45, even 60 minutes or more.
The Commitment to Explore You want to get permission to “interview” your prospects to find out their needs in relation to your offering. The best analogy is that you’re a doctor conducting an examination to find out where the patient hurts, the origin of the condition and what, if any, treatment has been administered. This request sounds like, “What I’d like to do today is to ask you some questions about your situation: Where you’re at, where you want to get to and what might be getting in your way.”
The Commitment to Change Along with the “Explore” commitment, you’ll also want to find out your prospects’ sense of urgency about solving their current state of affairs – what the implications are of changing, and also of not changing. After all, no urgency = no deal. So you can add to the above statement, “We can then address the things that are getting in your way to understand how they affect you.”
The Commitment to Collaborate Closely related to these commitments, you want to let your prospects know up front that you want to work closely with them to solve their problems. This sounds like, “At the end of this meeting we can decide if it makes sense for us to do something further together, or not. Does that make sense?” The italicized words emphasize the goal is mutual collaboration. When your prospects say “yes” to this request, congratulations – you have control of the sales process. Doesn’t mean you’ll close every deal but it does mean that they’ve agreed to your agenda. (Note: Adding “or not” to the end signals that there’s no pressure – each of you has the power to move forward or to call the process off if the need isn’t there or if you can’t provide the right solution.)
The Commitment to Build Consensus It’s rare that a single individual can move forward on a major purchase decision by him/herself. Can you imagine a father of two not consulting his wife, then coming home one evening saying, “Honey, you’re gonna LOVE the new two-seater convertible I just picked up!” A critical part of your job is to find out who else besides the prospect you’re talking to is involved. There are any number of people who can influence a deal, and it’s up to you to ask your prospect to include them if you want to maximize your chance to get their buy-in. What doesn’t work is to let your prospect present your offering to these other stakeholders without your presence – as soon as they raise one issue your contact can’t address your solution is dead in the water.
The Commitment to Invest Many sales people are reluctant to talk about the financial investment necessary to solve their prospects’ problems. Rather than holding off on discussing price at the end, Iannarino suggests you bring it up after you have established the value of your offering. This helps prospects understand how your solution thoroughly solves their situation even if it’s more than what they thought it would cost or more than they’re accustomed to paying.
The Commitment to Review At this point you want to review what you’ve discussed so far: Your prospects’ challenges, the steps need to be taken, who the other stakeholders are and what it will take both tactically and financially to remedy the situation. This may require multiple meetings – a review in each subsequent one is the key to maintaining momentum. Don’t be surprised if new challenges arise – you’ll need to gain new commitments to overcome these.
The Commitment to Resolve Concerns Prospects will naturally have concerns about adopting your proposed solutions – if they didn’t they wouldn’t need you. This may be the point where you need to demonstrate the most skill by having frank conversations about your prospects’ need to make changes that they know will cause a significant disruption in the way they’ve been doing things. These must be resolved so that your prospects can overcome their biggest fear – that they could be making a mistake by hiring you.
The Commitment to Decide If you’ve done a credible job of gaining the first eight commitments, there’s no point in pussyfooting around – ask the prospect to become your client. You’d better have a clear, concise way of making this request. I do it by stating, “If this makes sense to you, the way it works is …” and then describe the steps for them to move forward. Then I “STFU” – Shut The Forgodsakes Up. (Keeping quiet can be a real challenge for salespeople!) It’s rare that my prospects don’t sign on with me at this point. If they hesitate, I know I must have missed something so I will circle back to earlier discussions to discover what needs to be addressed.
The Commitment to Execute OK – you’ve closed the deal. Actually, you’ve opened the relationship with a client – you damn well better deliver on all the promises you’ve made! Like matrimony, you’ve gotten “married” to this client so you’ll need to be prepared to handle the inevitable “bad times” – tech glitches, service interruptions, delivery delays, resistant team members, etc. that threaten to derail the deal. If you consistently live up to the commitments you make with your client, this could become a long-term match made in business heaven.
In addition to expounding on these ten commitments, Iannarino shares a number of other important ideas. Among them, he talks about the fact that sales people are truly “change agents” – the best are skilled at getting their clients to adopt new productive behaviors to enhance their situation. He advocates using “soft” yet assertive language when confronting issues that might jeopardize a sale. And he emphasizes personal development as a key to sales success, as it explains why one person committed to ongoing improvement becomes a sales superstar while others flounder selling the same products and services.
The Bottom Line The “ABC” – Always Be Closing tactic typically turns into an arm-wrestling match, with you trying to fast-talk your way to a sale. This rarely ends well. By taking your time to gain a series of commitments with your prospects you are taking a professional approach to moving the sales process forward to its logical conclusion: A clear agreement to do business together.
So go ahead and pick up this book. But if Anthony goes on to write The Next Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, rest assured I’ll be calling him out.